Why buy a house on top of a hill?


This is where I do my kind of cloud computing.

I would probably get more writing done if I lived at the bottom of the hill, or put the computer in a room without a window.

Posted in Uncategorized

Back to blogging

It has been nine years since I updated my “About Weblogs” backgrounder page, the first draft of which was a page on a now-defunct server for a class at Emerson College in 2000.

The blogging server where I maintained that page from 2002 to 2009 went out of business, so I moved the page to my frozen-in-time “oldblog” folder.

But blogging itself has not been frozen, and early blogger Dave Winer has suggested I update my definition, just as he did recently. Here’s Dave’s “I know what a blog is,” expanding on his “unedited voice of a person” definition.

Winer’s software “Manila” and “Radio Userland” were two of the early blog-publishing systems I used, along with Trellix and Blogger, after writing blog-style Web pages in plain HTML. To me, these “edit in your browser” programs, which automated the last-page-in date-stamped diary format, were the real definition of blogging a dozen years ago. Now, the same systems can be used to create other kinds of websites, which was the point of this WordPress “Not a Blog” demo I did for students a few years ago.

My old-time-radio friend Jimbo uses Blogger for sites that go far beyond traditional “blog posts” to become encyclopedic resources of a very special kind, like his “Vic & Sade” opus at

So if the software no longer defines “blogging,” what does?

Here’s what my AP Stylebook says:


Notice that it doesn’t mention whether a blog has one voice, many voices, or if it can be the collaborative/communal voice of writers and editors working together. The Stylebook seems mostly focused on the length (“short”) of published items and a “usually (but not always)” reverse-chronological diary-style entries. The “but not always” would have to be added to “short” too, in order to include the work of admitted bloggers like NYU professor Jay Rosen’s and some of my longer items, including this one — or my last exploration of a 1940s Superman adventure.

This new interest in “what is a blog?” arose after The New York Times announced that it is cutting back on the publications it referred to as blogs, as distinct from the items it calls “news” or “opinion columns.” The lines between are probably a blur to folks who only read the Times online.

I don’t see a clear “About Times Blogs” explanation of how edited or collaborative they were, although what the Times has been calling blogs have been in latest-item-on-top order, had associated RSS and Twitter feeds, and apparently had a less formal tone than stories or columns intended for the print edition of the newspaper. Was “this is not going to be in print” the main Times definition of “blog”? Maybe.

You can find what’s left of the Times blogs at or

For many readers, seeing a blog-like page format may imply that the named author has total control of the words and opinions on that page. At the same time, seeing a gothic “The New York Times” logo on the page (or a “” in the address) may imply that the contents were subject to some level of editing. Actually, readers would be well-served by an “about” page that explained all the things “editing” can mean today — from help defining an assignment to revision issues of focus, length, consistent style (The Times has its own Stylebook), fact-checking, and copy editing for grammar and spelling.

Even the most personal of op-edit opinion columns get some editing. You can be pretty sure a page one story has had many more levels. The Public Editor column helps readers sort out those oversight issues from time to time, but even there you will find both “columns” and “blog posts.”:

The difference? Her “about” panel is about frequency, not copy editing:

“Margaret Sullivan is the fifth public editor appointed by The New York Times. She writes about the Times and its journalism in a frequent blog – the Public Editor’s Journal — and in a twice-monthly print column in the Sunday Review section…”

For my own general definition, I’ll stick with being mushy and reporting the shifting usage of the word “blog.” Some sites that call themselves blogs appear to have more than one author, or at least editing help. Sometimes I wish I did. For my own blogs, I try to explain what I’m doing on a prominently linked “about” page.

Some blogs also may have internal rules about never changing an old post. I don’t have that rule here or at my book-in-progress blog about old-time radio’s dramatic portrayals of journalists, I revise; my About page says so. If I see a misspelling or broken link on something weeks old, I’ll fix it. If I make substantial changes — add more links or pictures or change my mind about something — I’ll add a note of some kind.

[Note: I rarely use the iPad WordPress app that I used to post the first draft of this item. I may come back to it to improve the formatting with a full-featured editor.]

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Posted in Blogging, Newspapers

Have I been talking too much in class?

Jeanine Basinger’s five-week “Marriage in the Movies” online class at has wrapped up, and I had a great time… but I’m afraid I went overboard posting notes and links in the discussion forums. I’m calling it quits at 99 contributions.

The professor’s lectures were mostly about the ten assigned films and her history of Hollywood movies that are primarily “about marriage” — which she differentiates from films that are about married people doing other things, like solving “Thin Man” mysteries.

The students, however, were free to raise other topics in the discussion forums — and did, from “favorite movies” to “favorite quotes from movies” lists. Some folks were having so much fun that by the end they were discussing “forum” software and sites that would let them continue the conversation after the end of the class.

I had no special expertise on this category of films — or on the general subject of marriage — but I shared what I could about online film-research resources. I managed to avoid saying too much about old-time radio “replays” of movie plots, which I write about elsewhere,  or about ukuleles, folk, blues, Irish and Appalachian music,  and other topics near and dear to me. (One of the films we watched, The Marrying Kind, does have a heartbreaking scene involving Judy Holliday playing a ukulele, but saying more than that about it would be a plot “spoiler.”)

When the course was over, I went back to see just how much I had written for a course whose students are told to expect a work effort of four to six hours a week. That’s Coursera’s generic time estimate, and I think some students spent much more time than they expected.

For some class members — especially those outside the U.S. — just tracking down the assigned films was a challenge, and a topic for discussion. As a volunteer “community teaching assistant,” I tried to help with that, although assistants based in Europe and Asia might know more about availability of films in their regions.

So how much did I write? Almost as much as I would in a full-semester graduate seminar — minus the exhaustive “lit review” and minus the coherence of building a thesis and drawing conclusions in traditional “term paper” format. My attention deficit disorder had fun here!

Coursera does let you go back and look at all your own contributions to a discussion, so here are mine, exported as a PDF file (since no one else’s comments are included, I assume I’m within my “copyright” rights here: 6814 Marriage and the Movies_ A History _ Coursera

My Macintosh says that PDF file would be 41 pages long if printed! My notes might not always be understandable, removed from the original discussion context, but most stand on their own, and the links to other film resources should still work — at least they do in my copy when opened in a PDF viewer. I’m posting it here so that I can get at those links from other computers, and in case its of interest to a couple of non-Coursera film fans I know.

Posted in 2014, coursera, Education, film, media studies, MOOCs, movies, wesleyan

Another film course coming up… Marriage and the Movies

This should be fun. I’m enrolled in Wesleyan University’s latest Coursera “Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), a film history course taught by the head of the film studies program at my alma mater.

Listed below are the movies we’ll be watching and discussing in “Marriage & the Movies,” taught by Jeanine Basinger, starting April 21 and running for five weeks — two films a week, plus her online lectures, student discussion forums and quizzes.

This blog post is also an experiment to see if I can copy the HTML code of a list I made in a Coursera discussion forum and paste it into my blog for quick reference without logging into the Coursera system.

I don’t know whether Coursera’s international students will get much use from‘s service, but in a small college town in southwest Virginia (with a bigger university a half hour away and a bigger city an hour north), I had great luck using it for “Language of Hollywood” last fall. So I wrote this to recommend the service to classmates, along with the Internet Movie Database, which has an entry for each film.

Worldcat is not only a catalog of books and films, but a zip-code-based pointer to local libraries that have the material. Last semester, I used it to locate sources within driving-time and to frame interlibrary loan requests for others. I’ve also used it in research for my “Newspaper Heroes on the Air” old-time radio journalism-nostalgia project.

In addition to providing library listings, Worldcat has background information — cast list, a short abstract, awards, notes, DVD special features, source (related novel, its author etc.) and more.

I noticed last time that at some institutions films might be listed under the titles of a “bundled” box set or series collection, which can be an extra search trick. For examples, see Brief Encounters, Adam’s Rib and Heartburn below.

Of course some students may rely on Netflix, Amazon, Warner Archive and other sources, but I suspect a lot of them (like me) are on a budget — so libraries and Web searches could be our best friends. I’m trying to limit my media-purchasing to my main research obsession — films and radio shows that have journalist characters. Alas, only one of these (as far as I know) falls into that category.

Here are links that worked for me for our 10 —  I’ve put links on the titles themselves and worldcat links on the next line. At two films a week starting April 21, this whole set should make for a cinema-rich month of May! Given the subject matter, perhaps I should either get a date, invite over some married friends, or both…

1: WILD ORCHIDS (Franklin, 1929)

2: MADE FOR EACH OTHER (Cromwell, 1939)

3: THE MARRYING KIND (Cukor, 1952)

4: ADAM’S RIB (Cukor, 1949)
also in……

5: BRIEF ENCOUNTER (Lean, 1945)

6: VIVACIOUS LADY (Stevens, 1938)

7: SUSPICION (Hitchcock, 1941)

8: SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (Cromwell, 1944)

9: HEARTBURN (Nichols, 1986)
(Combined with “The Hours”)

10: THE WAR OF THE ROSES (DeVito, 1989)

Posted in 2014, Education, film, Internet, MOOCs, movies, popular culture, wesleyan

Making MOOC music in a second mode

My exploration of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) continues with two music courses offered by the Berklee College of Music in Boston. I’ve completed a film history class and a communication science class, but slipped out the side door of two other free courses, including a University of Edinburgh one I wrote about a few months ago.

I jumped into my first Berklee class, jazz improvisation with Gary Burton back in February, and decided it was a bit over my musical head — as well as competing for my time with the communication science class I wrote about here last time. I  watched Gary’s lectures and listened to the music, but didn’t attempt  the assignments — which were to be recorded and uploaded for listening and critique by other students.

In a moment of musical hubris, I had felt the level description of “intermediate” might describe me — but as soon as the class started it was obvious that some accordion lessons when J.F.K. was alive, a few months of guitar lessons (Johnson administration), and a lot of off-and-on noodling since then does not add up to “intermediate” at Berklee.  Or, as a friend of mine once said, “Can you play that thing, or do you just ‘know some tunes’?”

Most of my tune-learning over the years has been in American and Irish folk music, sea chanteys, some blues, and a few rock ‘n’ roll or pop standards… on the guitar, mandolin, mandola, five string banjo, ukulele and banjo ukulele. I do read music, but I’ve never had a need for the Gm7(b5) chord and accompanying modal scale, which started Gary’s first assignment.

While I like many kinds of music, I’ll admit the Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aeolian, Phrygian and Locrian mode names are all Greek to me, even when they describe music I’ve been playing for years. (Mostly “Ionian,” I guess.)  I think a couple of them describe music I’ve never attempted — including the first scale in that improv class.

Luckily, I noticed on the schedule that Berklee was also offering a “Developing Your Musicianship” class that, no joke, started April 1. So I signed up, and I have just completed the first week’s work. The teacher is jazz pianist George W. Russell Jr., and he is excellent — as are his Berklee students whose online performance rounded out the week’s 10 short video “lectures,”  about 40 minutes altogether. George’s description of the first week made it sound challenging, but within my skills:

In this first lesson, we are going to explore some basic musical terms. What is harmony? What is ear training? What is an interval? From there, we are going to look at the major scale and how it is constructed. We are then going to explore two intervals: the major 2nd and the major 3rd. It is very important that you develop your ear and your ability to recognize intervals. And, last but not least, we are going to explore the tonal center, or the key a song is in.

The discussion forums — as has been true with the earlier classes I’ve taken on Coursera — are full of fascinating people from all over the world. The “introductions” forum already has more than 400 contributions. The last four were from students in Zagreb, Croatia; Madrid, Spain; Peterborough, Ontario; and the Boston area. I’ve also noticed posts from Dublin, Stockholm, Tokyo, Brussels, Athens, Delhi and San Antonio. This should be fun.

This week’s homework included spending some time on YouTube looking for music in the key of C… and I enjoyed it so much that I submitted more than the three assigned examples. I decided not to include any ukulele tunes — although I’ve already been part of a course discussion forum with a couple of other students who are using ukes instead of keyboards to work through the lessons. (My only keyboard is a virtual one on my iPad screen, but it works.)

Here, I’ll share the C-tunes I found with you, too, copying and pasting from my Coursera submission:

This was a fun assignment, and I hope it wasn’t cheating to search (YouTube) for the phrases “key of c” and “played in c” to make the search more productive. But I did start with songs that I know are often played in that key. I went beyond the assigned three.

“Keep on the Sunny Side of Life” by Mother Maybelle & The Carter Sisters

“Two little fishes” by Sister Rosetta Tharp

“Creole Belle” and “Louis Collins” (from Mississippi John Hurt) played and taught by Stefan Grossman

“Melody in C” by Frederic Mesnier

“The Christmas Song” by Mel Torme, sung by Nat King Cole (in D) … And a guitar arrangement in C:

I am curious how many of you (like me) searched YouTube for “the key of C” and found Victor Borge’s comedic presentation of Mozart’s “Bagatele in the key of C”

it does not fit the requirements for this assignment, but I am glad I found it. I had not heard him in years and he is a wonderful entertainer, although he does not actually play the piano in this clip!

I mentioned this general technique of finding things in a course discussion forum, and while I was writing that note I confirmed my suspicion that there is even a Wikipedia page for “C major” that includes lists of classical compositions and pop songs written in that key. So much for difficult homework, unless I completely misunderstood the assignment! If I did, someone will tell me. It’s all learning!

I do hope the classmate or classmates who review that assignment enjoy the Borge item… but that will be next week when we do “evaluations.” I’m also looking forward to another Coursera film course starting in a couple of weeks — once again, from my graduate alma mater, Wesleyan University: Marriage and the Movies.

Posted in 2014, Education, MOOCs, Music

Another month, another MOOC

Now I’m studying “Communication Science” at the University of Amsterdam via

One of my classmates used a system called Zeemaps to let students post their locations visually. Here’s the result so far: For UvA Communication Science class -- first 122 students For UvA Communication Science class — first 122 students

The map can zoom in to show exactly where in Uzbeckistan one student is, or where the two of us are in Virginia — depending on how specific we made the location in Zeemaps. (I just gave my city, not my street address. Some students may have just given a state — or a nation.)

On the day I captured this, only 122 students had pinned themselves on the map. That’s just a beginning. In a reply to one of my posts in the course discussion area last week, Professor Rutger de Graaf apologized for not only being able to respond to messages personally — his enrollment had just passed 37,000. That map could get crowded! But it already shows the marvelous diversity of the student body.

While the course is a basic introduction to concepts and theories in the (itself quite diverse) discipline of “Communication Science,” the online student-created discussions range from “This is Me!” introductions to “Is Communication an Art or a Science?” to “Have we lost our ability to communicate?”and “deliberate gender stereotyping?” — a 70-voice discussion inspired by the professor’s use of a cartoon showing a bouquet of flowers as a way to communicate “you are pretty” in one of his first slideshow lectures.

I’ve already gotten typically verbose trying to explain the structure of various academic “communication” organizations in the United States, where “Mass Communication,” “Media Studies,” “Communication Studies” and “Communication Science” can mix and match from campus to campus due to various quirks of academic organization, allegiance and ancestry. Here are just a few:

Posted in 2014, communication, Digital Culture, Education, Internet, MOOCs, socialnets

Utopias, communication, education & #edcmooc

Our #edcmooc online course discussion topics include technological utopias and dystopias, coincidentally a theme in the Digital Culture program created by David Bogen and colleagues at Emerson College in Boston.

I joined the team in 2000.

Digital Cuture 2000 at Emerson College

Digital Cuture, 2000

My class was called Digital Culture: “Mediamorphosis,” using Roger Fidler‘s book by that name (and Steve Outing’s preview of the book), while other professors added their own themes from “Utopias/Dystopias” to cyborgs and cyberfeminism (with Katrien Jacobs) to digital art and world ecology.

My focus on communication history — in that particular year and city — was a perfect excuse to introduce students to Edward Bellamy’s  utopian novel, “Looking Backward,” written in the 1880s, but taking place in Bellamy’s imagined Boston of 2000.

The class met in a computer lab and included introductions to online resources and software applications (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, etc.). Bellamy gave us an excuse to explore Project Gutenberg, where students could read the book or search its text for keywords in our discussion.

Here it is:

(A Google search will find many more online editions of the book, including this one at the University of Virginia, but I prefer the simple searchable text version in one big file. )

To reach sections relevant to a discussion of technology, media and education, I would ask students to identify the major communication technology advances of the decade in which Bellamy was writing, the 1880s.

I am pleasantly surprised to see that my smartphone can open the full text of the novel and use its Android browser’s “search in page” feature to locate the words “telephone” and “newspaper.”

The surprise for most students (spoiler alert) is that Bellamy predicted the telephone would become a broadcast medium — bringing music,  lectures and genteel culture into the home.

We might also discuss my strange behaviour of opening an old book and immediately doing keyword searches instead of reading it in a linear fashion as intended by the author. That could be a bridge to an entire course on hypertext and postmodernism.

Another of my favorite searches in the book is for the word “umbrella” — which leads to a Bellamy form of socialist utopianism,  the communal street awning. And a search for “credit card” (yes, 1887) should prove surprising.

I wonder if Bellamy is on the radar of the course’s organizers at the University of Edinburgh? I am hoping that the course RSS pick up this short post and share it with them and my classmates.

image of his book, linked to his websiteToday, thanks to Google Books, we could try the same “search for keywords” trick with Fidler’s Mediamorphosis. At the time of its publication, Fidler had been a member of the Knight-Ridder videotex development team and Viewtron’s first director of design, developing a vision of “tablet” interfaces in the early 1980s.

Getting back to the turn-of-the-21st century, our 2000-2003 Emerson Digital Culture class included a film series on “digital culture” sub-themes including utopia/dystopia, cyborgs and virtual reality. It included some (*) of these, all made between 1982 and 2002:

(After the original posting, I added a few “did we show this…?” and “should we have…?” films to the list, put it in chronological order, and added IMDB links. The “*” films are the ones I’m pretty sure we did use at the time.)

Note: this post is also an experiment in creating a blog item for the mooc RSS aggregator using only my smartphone and to a great extent its voice to text feature. Apologies for any resultant misspellings.

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Posted in communication, Digital Culture, Education, fiction, MOOCs, Newspapers, writing

Another day, another MOOC — #edcmooc

I’ve signed up for an already-in-progress MOOC course, “E-Learning and Digital Culture,” taught by a team of professors at the University of Edinburgh, which is encouraging students to use their blogs, Twitter accounts (@bobstep) and other online media as part of the discussion. So… greetings to any visiting classmates.

Since this blog’s usual topics are journalism, media studies, teaching and hypertext linkage, I don’t see much point in creating a new blog to go with the course. It should all fit together… including my habit of embedding YouTube videos in the blog. This is one of the “prompts” for discussion in the course, a charming exploration of “new media” networking called “Inbox” (although “Inbag” would be more literal):

Coincidentally, my last couple of blog posts were related to a previous MOOC, which I just completed a couple of weeks ago.

Other students are doing creative things already, including making a Google map where we can pin our locations — an amazing spread so far…

My first contribution to the already extensive discussion managed to stray far from digital — to some of H.G. Wells’ writings as far back as 1895, in a discussion of utopian and dystopian themes in a few short videos about contemporary media. Here’s a copy, with links to two films and the Wells information:

Apologies for joining the course so late and trying to catch up with a lot of discussions in one evening. In addition to the main themes of this course, I am interested in the culture and history of technology, pre-digital as well as digital.

The first short film, Bendito Machine IIIhas echoes of Javanese wayang shadow puppet plays — which also have to do with ritual, communication with powerful forces from above, and with storytelling. Perhaps our dystopic or utopian stories about technology have a deeper message about our feelings of powerlessness, and our hope to get more control of things through knowledge, ritual and flickering lights from above (or from behind a screen). For the worshippers of the machine in this little film, there was little control of the technology, no two-way communication, and the ultimate end was dystopia and destruction.

was charming — while not quite utopian, it showed another magical technology that, this time, made communication possible. It also showed how we are drawn to “new media” by accident, curiosity and trial-and-error. (As well as including a homage to the softer “technology” of the post-it note, a mainstay of communication on refrigerators everywhere.) And it was fascinating that the “user’s” exuberance over his connection with the other RedBag user led to his accidentally ripping the bag and extinguishing its magic — much like an exuberant Facebook user accidentally dumping a cup of tea into a laptop. Technology is fragile. (And, as for the RedBag, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” as Arthur C. Clarke said.)

I found it fascinating that spoken dialogue was not important in either film, partly because I just finished my first Coursera experience, Scott Higgins’ wonderful course on “The Language of Hollywood,” including the transition from silent to sound film:

On the topic of earlier utopias or dystopias, H.G. Wells gave us several examples — starting more than a century ago. His 1895 time traveler found a distant future where dependance on technology had degraded human nature. His War of the Worlds saw superior (Martian) military technology ultimately defeated by Earth’s biology. His 1933 The Shape of Things to Come (and the 1936 film, “Things to Come”) had an Anglocentric scientific/technological “benign dictatorship” put an end to war (and to most religions and diverse cultures) after a century of war. One person’s utopia may be another’s dystopia.

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Posted in Computers, Digital Culture, Education, media studies, socialnets

Trailing the Lonesome Pine — finding a musical centennial

This square dance was what really stuck the line “… On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine” in my head. I’ve since learned The Trail didn’t stop (or start) with the dance, but you can watch it, then sing along for fun while you read the rest of the story.

The Book

The Book

My film course (a non-credit MOOC) has led me to an interesting popular-culture chain of media, starting with a 1908 novel, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, and wending its way to a 1913 pop song, an outdoor drama still performed each summer in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and a singing square dance still done in New England, all available on the Web, especially in the Internet Archive and on YouTube, with separate Wikipedia pages for the novel, song, and film.

Because of the coincidence of the 1913 song’s centennial, here are some links and connections, mostly a celebration of the Internet’s varied ways of archiving media — and giving me ways to distract myself. (This page may be a bit of a jumble, with some duplication because of pieces cut and pasted from my movie course discussion site; I’ll try to come back and clean it up some day.)

1913 recording Edna Brown (Elsie Baker) & James F. Harrison (Frederick J Wheeler) at Internet Archive.

The original song is more a product of the barbershop quartet era of sentimental melodies and harmonizing. Laurel and Hardy managed four voices between the two of them, with the help of a bung starter.

The words are sweet and sentimental and do use the name of the book’s heroine, June, a favorite of every barbershop rhyming dictionary. A bit of that melody is used behind the title credits for the 1936 movie, but the words are not sung. Instead, we get the (composed for the film?) song “Twilight on the Trail” with its reference to a “lonesome pine on the hill.”

The Song

The Song

The 1937 recording by Laurel & Hardy from their film “Way Out West.” (In the video clip, the very low and very high voices on the last verse both appear to come from Stan Laurel, under the influence of liquor and a knock on the head, respectively)
A search of YouTube will find many more singers and dancers on The Trail, from the Laurel and Hardy scene to a player piano roll, Rex Allen (with and without Brenda Lee), British ukulele strummers and New England square dance musicians. (Watch the dance or watch the caller Tony Parkes and musicians. Here’s Tony’s site, and here’s one for Ralph Sweet, whom I first heard call this dance in the 1970s.)

“On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine” (1936), the first big outdoor three-strip Technicolor film, played an important part in Scott Higgins “The Language of Hollywood” online “MOOC” course I’ve been taking, and is discussed thoroughly for its “restrained” approach to color in his book, “Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow.” (Fox’s novel, a not-quite-western frontier romance, with men on horseback and a battle to establish law and order, had inspired earlier silent films, but I still haven’t seen them.)

I’d first heard the title “On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine” as the refrain of an old song. I remember Arthur Godfrey singing snatches of the catchy tune on his TV and radio shows in the 1950s. (Media students: Look him up!) And more recently, I heard the tune at Ralph Sweet’s New England square dances in the 1980s, particularly a “singing square” that used the original song’s refrain and encouraged the dancers to sing along on the line “In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, on the trail of the lonesome pine.” If singing while dancing doesn’t stick a tune in your head, nothing will. (More recently, the lyric set me to questioning whether the area mentioned in the book is rightfully called part of the “Blue Ridge,” which I associate with the ridgeline of the Blue Ridge Parkway a couple of hundred miles east. But “Blue Ridge” has two syllables and “Cumberland” three, and the song gets to say “…like the mountains, I’m blue.”)

The Film

The Film

My first encounter with the movie wasn’t this film course, it was in Sharyn McCrumb’s novel, “The Devil Amongst the Lawyers,” set around the time the 1936 film came out. McCrumb’s characters blame the movie and the 1908 John Fox Jr. novel that inspired it for feeding outsiders’ unflattering preconceptions of Appalachian mountain folks.

After I read her novel, interested in her critique of 1930s journalists, I bought myself a copy of the movie on DVD. It starred Sylvia Sydney, Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda, and the dialogue of “we-uns” and “furriners” and “green-up” (for springtime) got old in a hurry.

Hollywood’s uneducated and feuding mountaineers couldn’t have been a fair picture of this area in the 1930s, even if it was close to the truth in the era Fox wrote about — the 1880-1900 coal boom years in Southwestern Virginia. The movie pulled the characters out of those horse-and-buggy days and into “modern” times, almost in the way it did with the “Wild West” of 1930 singing-cowboy movies.

Today, Fox’s novel is available for free at the Internet Archive, Open Library, Project Gutenberg and a 35-chapter Librivox free audiobook version that read me to sleep for a couple of weeks.

For a 105-year-old novel about “progress,” “nature” and change, I rather liked the melodrama about the coming of the railroads and coal mines to the mountains. Despite the “Blue Ridge” reference in the song lyric, the story takes place in farther Southwestern Virginia and Southeastern Kentucky. The town of Big Stone Gap, Va., still celebrates Fox’s work with June-through-August outdoor theater performances of a play based on the novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t discover the theater page at until the season was over.

More links….

Here’s an “Appalachian Studies” resource guide for the film and novel: Http://

Here’s More about McCrumb’s  novel.

Posted in Internet, Internet Archive, MOOCs, movies, popular culture, Virginia

Back in school at old school in a new way

This is going to be fun. I am for the third time enrolled at Wesleyan University… Continuing an old tradition of “leave job… return to college  (preferably Wesleyan)…”

When I quit my daily newspaper job at The Hartford Courant, my goal was to take a year off, finish my courses for a master’s degree in anthropology, and spend a summer in Ireland researching my M.A. thesis. The one year spun into three after my advisor left on sabbatical and never returned. My new advisor, ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin, directed me into a couple of new courses and even made me his teaching assistant for a course on Ethnicity and Popular Culture, my introduction to Wesleyan’s cinema resources. He was enormously patient, and it was a struggle to keep the master’s thesis to 280 pages, even after one of the “informants” asked to be removed from it completely.

The resultant editing and rewriting were part of the inspiration for learning everything I could about “word processing” at the university computer lab, and buying my first computer. That led to my taking computer courses during the summer after graduation, editing a newsletter for Wesleyan microcomputer users, and landing a job writing (in English, not computer code) for a software company — which paid me to take more software-and-writing courses on the side.

When the founder sold the company and technical writing started feeling “old,” I added up the courses I’d taken already and headed back to Wesleyan to complete a second master’s — a “Master of Arts in Liberal Studies” — by writing a thesis about hypertext. (With the help of cognitive science prof Marc Sebrechts, I kept that “liberal studies final essay” to 135 pages, but it was 1988 and hypertext hadn’t been made the organizing principle of the World Wide Web. After the Web happened, I headed to UNC Chapel Hill to — eventually — write a much longer doctoral dissertation, very slowly.)

Now that I’ve taken my retirement from full-time teaching at Radford University, I can’t face a September without some involvement in higher education… so I am enrolled in a Wesleyan University online course:

The Language of Hollywood: Storytelling, Sound, and Color with Scott Higgins

“This Film History course explores how fundamental changes in film technology affected popular Hollywood storytelling. We will consider the transition to sound, and the introduction of color.”

I hope to use what I learn the next time I teach a course about the portrayal of journalists in film and popular culture, possibly offering it as a more-online class myself. Professor Higgins’ course sounds fascinating, and I suspect I’ll learn plenty about film — and about online teaching in the process. Here’s how he describes it in the syllabus:

Each change in technology brought new opportunities and challenges, but the filmmaker’s basic task remained the emotional engagement of the viewer through visual means.

We will survey major directors and genres from the studio era and point forward to contemporary American cinema. Our aim is to illuminate popular cinema as the intersection of business, technology, and art. Through film history, we will learn about the craft of filmmaking and how tools shape art.

The course is a “MOOC” — a Massively Open Online Course — hosted by  Coursera, whose motto is “Take the world’s best courses, online, for free.” (See another Wesleyan professor’s reflections on teaching her first MOOC.) Since my first UNC course as a teaching assistant in 1995, I have produced Web pages for every course I’ve taught. I’ve used blogs, wikis, online forums, “course management systems” and podcasts, but I’ve never taught or taken a fully-online course, massive or otherwise.

Lectures will be online videos. We students will be on our own for film viewings — and I’m already tracking down the 10 films at local libraries and online suppliers. ( helped me quickly find several of the films at the Radford University and Virginia Tech libraries, and order others through Radford by InterLibrary Loan. I’m also buying a few, or at least renting them online.) Among other things, I’ll be interested to hear the professor’s view of the copyright (and ethical) issues involved in the posting of classic films on YouTube, which I started exploring because of my interest in hard-to-find newspaper films.

Posted in 2013, Education, hypertext, jpop, media studies, MOOCs, movies, Radford, Stepno, wesleyan

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